Technology concerns Featured

10:30am EDT July 31, 2006
Telecommunications and Internet technology are advancing at the speed of light these days. Companies want the latest and greatest offerings out there, but integrating upgrades to existing systems without disrupting day-to-day operations can be a major challenge. Pair that with a move from one physical location to another or the opening of additional offices and the stage is set for a potential nightmare.

The ultimate goal, says Kevin Teeters, vice president of marketing for Mpower Communications in Pittsford, N.Y., is to achieve a seamless transition that allows the company and its employees to continue performing day-to-day business operations without experiencing a single hiccup. Crucial to that is selecting the right network provider for the job, which means doing a lot of homework and research.

Smart Business spoke with Talbot about what a company needs to do to avoid common pitfalls when upgrading technology systems and how to pick the right provider to offer the right solutions.

Why do business owners need to be aware of the disruptions that can occur when integrating technology upgrades or transferring systems to a new facility?
Any time there is potential to disrupt operations, there is also potential to lose customer contact. So whenever you upgrade or add technology, or move from your current technology, you need to work hand-in-hand with your network provider.

It’s important for a business to integrate its service or technical people with its provider’s service technicians to ensure a seamless transition to the new or upgraded services. For example, a business could have 24/7 operations and do a lot of international business as well so that most of their network use comes between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. That kind of business probably should be working with a provider who can customize a system that will minimize the interruption of services at peak flow times.

Also, when you look at upgrades, make sure you look future-forward and implement technology that will allow you to future-proof your communications. If you look at Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions, for instance, customers should look at it not as a product but a solution that could provide cost reductions, not to mention enhanced services, integration of data and voice systems, a stable platform and more productivity.

What are some strategies a company can use to ensure a smooth integration of new technology systems?
Look at the support structure that will be provided by the telecommunications provider to make sure there is training available for new technology and services. Also, make sure your provider has demonstrated fiscal stability and longevity. To do this, check out their standing with the Better Business Bureau and ask for references from other customers. Ask those customers about the provider’s reliability and support response times. Also, study the provider’s service agreements and other contracts, and make sure all commitments are in writing.

What can a company that’s moving locations do to ensure the same such smooth integration of new technology systems?
Make sure communications are top-notch, and that the provider has offered and communicated a detailed timeline for the network upgrade or the initialization of new services. Also, make sure your team has a high comfort level and that your provider understands their needs and listens and responds to them adequately. Make sure there is a tightly delineated schedule of events, multiple people available for contact, and a clear escalation list if there are any concerns or problems.

Where do companies tend to go wrong in this regard? What challenges do they face?
The biggest mistake that companies make is letting providers give them a generic, predetermined product and not pushing them to go back and understand their specific challenges and come back with a customized business solution that’s tailored to their needs. Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) are so large that they can’t scale a customer’s solution quick enough, so they’re more inclined to simply provide such a precut, predetermined product. A smaller, more nimble company would be a better bet to provide that kind of customized solution.

The challenge is finding time to fully research the best solution and find a provider willing to understand your company’s needs and be a consultative solution.

What final advice would you give a company on the brink of upgrading its technology or moving to a new office?
Start thinking outside the box and research what’s been done before. Don’t replicate what you had in the old location, but consider things you haven’t considered before like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that now allow businesses to connect securely at their location or from somewhere else remotely via intranet or extranet. Start looking at the cost-benefit analysis of VPNs, VoIP and other new technologies that can help you out.

KEVIN TEETERS is vice president of marketing for Mpower Communications in Pittsford, N.Y. Reach him at (714) 453-6705.